Beyond Fenway: New England summer pro teams beckon

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There’s nothing like going to Fenway Park in the summer, but if you’re looking for a less expensive, less crowded outing, there are several good alternatives. Over the past two weeks, I sampled three of them. Here is what I found:

Boston Lobsters: Co-ed World Team Tennis

My children (16 and 11) and I have made it a point for the past four summers to see the Lobsters. We love the fun atmosphere (think cowbells), fast-paced high level of play and close proximity to the action. The kids (and Dad as well) also love the free beverage samples, merchandise giveaways and easy to get autographs!

The Lobsters relocated from Cambridge to the elegant Ferncroft County Club near Danvers last summer. That’s great for Mainers, as the venue is only 90 minutes from Portland. The stadium’s capacity is an intimate 1,556. The seats are so close to the court that you can hear the players’ side comments. For those wishing to extend their stay, the Sheraton Ferncroft and Coco Key Indoor Water Park are adjacent to the club.

WTT teams play 14 matches in a three-week span in July. Each team is comprised of two men and two women. The Lobsters roster includes James Auckland, Jan-Michael Gambill, Raquel Kops-Jones and Stephanie Foretz. Each team also has a guest star. This season, Serena Williams came to the Ferncroft with the Washington Kastles, while Martina Navratilova played in two matches for the Lobsters.

Team matches consist of five sets, with one set each of men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. WTT innovations such as “four point/no-ad” game scoring and “let serves are in play” keep things moving.

The Lobsters are coached by Bates College grad Bud Schultz, who went on to achieve a world ranking of 39 on the men’s pro tour.

“If parents want their kids to fall in love with tennis, they should bring them to a match,” Schultz said. “The players hit the ball so hard, and have so much control, it’s like magic. It’s a high-energy atmosphere.”

The Lobsters record was 4-7 (just 1.5 games out of second place and a spot in the playoffs) going in to their final matches.

Connecticut Sun: Women’s National Basketball Association

My son and I attended last week’s Sun game against the Los Angles Sparks. Because there is so much to do at the Mohegan complex (entertainment, dining, shopping, gaming, etc.) most of the crowd arrives just before tipoff. This give basketball fans a chance to get real close to the players during warm-ups.

My son collected autographs (including one from 2008 league MVP, and recent first-time mother, Candace Parker) and I had a chance to chat with Sparks coach, and former Celtics nemesis as a Los Angeles. Laker, Michael Cooper. I also enjoyed watching second-year Sun, Sandrine Gruda, work with assistant coach Scott Hawk. The shot blocking 22-year-old, 6′ 4″ center from France was looking to atone for her zero-for-six shooting performance in her previous game. Gruda repeatedly practiced shots from designated spots on the perimeter and then worked on specific low post moves. I felt like a scout when I saw Gruda hit three of her team’s first five buckets (from her practice spots) and ended up making seven-for-13.

Other double figure scorers on the Sun are:

• Asjha Jones, an athletic 6′ 3″ forward and UConn graduate, who was a leader on the Huskies undefeated 2002 NCAA Championship team.

• Lindsay Whalen, a playmaking, rebounding 5′ 9″ guard from Minnesota, who was narrowly edged for league MVP honors last season.

• Erin Phillips, a fiery, sharp shooting 5’8″ guard, who played on the Australian Team which captured the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics

The team plays well together; and along with the music, hi-tech lights and very spirited crowd, the dazzling 10,000 seat Mohegan Sun Arena (average attendance is 6,500) is an exciting place to be. The arena is about 3.5 hour drive from Portland, most of which (especially the last hour down I-395 from Worcester) is very pleasant. Nearby attractions include the Mystic Seaport and Aquarium.

WNBA teams play a 34 game schedule from June through mid-September. After 13 games, the Sun stood 7-6, good for second place in the seven team Eastern Conference. Four teams from each conference will qualify for the playoffs. There are several home games remaining.

The WNBA All-Star Game is being played at the Mohegan Sun this Saturday. The contest will be televised on ABC beginning at 3:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend open practices on Friday, the day before the game, from 3 to 5 p.m.

Boston Breakers: Women’s Professional Soccer

The Breakers are one of seven teams competing in the WPS’s first season of play (the league expects to have ten teams next year). The Breakers play at Harvard Stadium in Boston, which is itself of interest. Built in 1903, the nation’s oldest stadium is a horseshoe containing Greek and Roman elements. The stadium provides outstanding sightlines and has a seating capacity of 30,323. Breakers’ attendance has ranged between 3,105 and 8,031.

Breakers games are very family friendly The fan zone, adjacent to the stadium, opens two hours prior to kickoff and includes inflatable games, music, contests and food samples. The stadium gates open one hour prior to kickoff, permitting fans to observe warm-ups. During that time, spectators get a good look at the players’ incredible skills. After each game, most of the players sign autographs.

The team has many familiar names.

• Head coach Tony DiCicco guided the USA to the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal and the 1999 World Cup championship.

• Members of the U.S. National Team playing for Boston are Kristine Lilly, Angela Hucles, Amy LePeilbet, Amy Rodriquez (first overall pick in the 2009 WPS Draft) and Heather Mitts.

• Other team members include 2008 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year finalist Kelly Smith of England, and Fabiana, a 19 year old from Brazil’s 2008 Olympic Silver Medal team.

After 15 games (of their 20 game regular season) the team was in third place. Four teams will qualify for the playoffs. There are two home games remaining on July 25 and August 9.

Other Pro Teams

There are two other summer major league teams in New England. I have yet to visit them personally, but here are the basics:

New England Revolution: Men’s Major League Soccer

The Revs play at Gillette Stadium (also home of the New England Patriots) in Foxboro. They play a 30 game schedule from March through October (eight home games remain). After 14 games, the team was in sixth place in the seven-team Eastern Conference. The top four teams in each conference make the playoffs.

The Boston Cannons: Men’s Major League Lacrosse

The Cannons play at Harvard Stadium in Boston. They play a 12-game schedule from May through early August (a final home game remains on August 6). After nine games, the Cannons were in third place in the six-team league. The top four teams make the playoffs.

Sidebar Elements

PNMS-sportsboston-072209.JPGThe Boston Breakers are one of many regional teams in action this summer.